Captain’s log, Stardate 6397.3. We have established orbit around the frontier colony Vesbius, a settlement just outside Federation jurisdiction in the Omega sector. On the planet below is a colony of nearly 20,000 people, including many families. The conjugated orbits of the planet’s moons have unexpectedly perturbed an asteroid and the huge rock is now on a path to strike the planet—and destroy the colony. Although the colony is outside the Federation, the colonists are human and have strong trade and cultural ties to the Federation. Our mission is to offer assistance and support in the evacuation of Vesbius.
The ship’s intercom whistled and a look of resignation passed over the face of Captain James T. Kirk. He was on a treadmill in the Enterprise workout facility and was near the end of a simulated twelve-mile run to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. The treadmill was tilted to its steepest incline, and Kirk was sweating up a storm. He’d done this run before, but now he was working on a personal best.
It would have to wait. Kirk mashed the stop button and hopped off the treadmill as it was slowing down. He picked up a towel from a nearby rack and mopped his brow while pressing the button on the workout room intercom that connected him to the bridge.
“Kirk here,” he said.
“We are preparing to enter orbit around the planet Vesbius, Captain,” said Commander Spock, who had the conn on the bridge while Kirk was away.
“Correct me if I’m mistaken,” Kirk replied, “but I thought we weren’t due to arrive for another twenty minutes.”
“It seems that what Mister Scott described as his ‘wee bit of tinkering and tweaking’ on the antimatter recombination unit of the warp drive has had a beneficial effect,” Spock responded acerbically.
“All right,” said Kirk. “I’ll be right there.”
The captain continued to dry himself with the microbial refresher towel. He reflected that while this was not quite as good as a full bath, it would have to do for now. He pulled on his tawny gold command shirt and made his way to the turbolift.
As soon as Kirk arrived at the bridge, Mister Spock arose from the command chair and took a position at his science station. Chekov and Sulu manned the navigator and helmsman posts, respectively, and Uhura was at the communications station.
It was a source of great pride for Kirk to be among his crew. Three and a half years together had formed them into a well-oiled unit. But it was their individual strengths that most pleased Kirk, and humbled him. True, he’d picked his crew carefully, but he’d also been extraordinarily lucky to have such officers from which to choose. Now that the Enterprise’s five-year mission was well past the halfway mark, Kirk could not help but feel a bit of nostalgia for the times he’d shared with these people.
Yet, as always, he had to stop himself from indulging in too much warmth and fuzziness. The mission wasn’t over, not by a long shot, and today he and the Enterprise crew had a very important job to do.
“Lieutenant Uhura, open a channel to the chancellor of the Vesbius colony, please. What was his name? Vader?”
“Faber, sir,” Uhura replied. “He’s standing by.”
“On-screen,” said Kirk.
Uhura pressed a button. The planet, which had previously occupied the main viewscreen, was replaced by a stocky, older man. He looked to be of European stock and possessed a shock of gray in the middle of his combed-back hair. He did not have a happy expression on his face.
“Mister Chancellor, I’m Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. My ship and my crew are in orbit around your planet and are ready and able to assist you in any way.”
“Assist us?” said the chancellor. “I’m not sure how you could do that. Furthermore, I have to object to the Federation sending a scientific mission our way during such a time as this. Normally we welcome Federation contact, of course. Maybe if you come back in a few months, we’ll be better able to deal with you.”
“Deal?” Kirk replied. “Mister Chancellor, are you aware that there is a very large asteroid on a collision course with your planet?”
“We are quite aware of that fact, Captain,” the chancellor said. “Which is why I am surprised that the Federation chose to send someone to look in on us at a time like this.”
While the chancellor was speaking, another man came into the viewscreen field. He was shorter than Faber and was dressed in what looked like the uniform of a planetary militia. His features were a blend of Asian and European. This man leaned down and whispered something into the chancellor’s ear, and Faber nodded. The other man exited the way he had come.
Kirk craned forward in his chair.
Interesting, the captain thought. Was some sort of intrigue going on below on the planet surface? Had the chancellor’s power been somehow usurped? His response to the Enterprise offer of help would be curious behavior at any time, and it was especially so now.
“We are not here to look in on you, Mister Chancellor,” said Kirk emphatically. “We are here to get you and your people off this planet.”
The chancellor did his best to look puzzled, but to Kirk it had the distinct appearance of a put-on expression. “I’m afraid there’s been a mix-up,” he replied. “We requested no such assistance.”
“On the contrary, sir, three months ago a direct request for assistance was delivered to Starbase Twelve via a drone messenger capsule,” put in Spock from his science station. Kirk knew that the feed to the chancellor would automatically pull back to include the Vulcan in the visual.
“That drone was not authorized by the Planetary Council, however. It was sent by a group of our merchants who overreacted to the crisis before the situation was adequately understood. And be that as it may,” said the chancellor in an officious tone, “we no longer require any aid, and your presence is a distraction, I’m afraid.”
Kirk touched his fingers to his chin and leaned back in his chair. After considering a moment, he spoke again. “Mister Chancellor, we’ve come a long way. I understand that Vesbius is outside Federation territory, but we are concerned for your safety nonetheless. I do have my orders. I’d like to beam down and discuss the situation with you in person.”
“Captain, I really must insist—”
Kirk cut the man off. “Chancellor, Vesbius has a reputation for its hospitality, among other things. I hope that these reports have not been mistaken.”
The chancellor sighed. “Very well, Captain Kirk,” he said. “I will provide coordinates for you to beam down.” The previous hard expression on Faber’s face softened, and he attempted a smile. “We really do cherish our reputation for a generous welcome here on Vesbius, Captain. We will do our best to see that it is upheld when you arrive, despite our trying circumstances. Please understand that while we are not a Federation colony, we have strong cultural and, of course, genetic ties to the Federation and to humanity. I look forward to meeting you. Faber out.”
The viewscreen went blank momentarily and then was replaced by the view of the planet below. Kirk shook his head. “What was that about?” he said.
“Curious,” said Mister Spock. “While he refused our assistance, he did take pains to emphasize the colony’s relationship to the Federation.”
“They have strong trade ties, do they not?” said Kirk. “They are master biologists. Vesbian pharmaceuticals have been an enormous boon to the Federation. The lives that have been saved by that Rigelian fever vaccine alone must number in the billions. Plus, everyone in the Omega sector has heard of Vesbian ale.”
“I am not familiar with the substance,” replied Mister Spock.
“Spock, where’s your scientific curiosity?” Kirk said. “It’s some of the best beer in the galaxy, in my opinion.”
Sulu turned partway away from his home station and addressed them. “If I may, Mister Spock, one taste of Vesbian ale and even a Vulcan might become a beer drinker.” He added, “It’s that good.”
Mister Spock arched an eyebrow. “Indeed?” he replied.
“You may get your chance, Spock,” said Kirk. “I’m taking you and McCoy down to Vesbius in the landing party.” He turned to Lieutenant Uhura. “Lieutenant, ask the doctor to join us in the transporter room.”
“Doctor McCoy to the transporter room,” said Uhura into her station intercom.
Spock cocked his head. “Doctor McCoy is famously averse to having his atoms spread across the universe. May I inquire as to the purpose of including him in the landing party?”
“You may,” Kirk replied with a sly smile. “It’s because of something Faber said just now—that statement about strong cultural and genetic ties to humanity. We may need the doctor.”
“Sir,” Spock replied.
“Besides,” said Kirk, “I had an image of the three of us raising tankards of ale and getting pleasantly sloshed together in a Vesbian beer garden.”
“Unlikely, Captain,” said Spock. “Alcohol does not have the same effect on Vulcans as it does upon humans, where it loosens the inhibitions and serves as a social lubricant. For Vulcans, it merely quiets the mind and heightens the analytic side of our nature.”
“Great,” Chekov muttered to himself. “Having a drink makes him even more of a logical stick in the mud than he already is.”
Kirk noticed that Spock, who had obviously heard the comment with his keen ears, betrayed no sign of irritation. In fact, if Kirk had not known better, he might have believed that he saw the slightest trace of amusement cross Spock’s calm and composed expression.
A bleat from the bridge intercom interrupted Kirk’s reflection.
“McCoy here,” said the voice over the speaker. “I’m standing by in the transporter room. Since you are bound and determined to throw my molecules across space, why don’t you get down here, and let’s get on with it.”
Kirk stood up and motioned to Spock. “Shall we join the doctor? Lieutenant Uhura, call Scotty to the bridge. Until he arrives, Mister Sulu, you have the conn.”
“Aye, Captain,” Sulu replied.
• • •
“About time you got here,” said Doctor Leonard McCoy when Kirk and Spock entered the transporter room. “Now maybe you can explain to me what’s going on.”
“The Vesbians are refusing our aid to evacuate the planet,” said Spock. “In fact, there are no indications that an evacuation has begun.”
“What?” replied a surprised McCoy. “Don’t they realize what’s about to happen?”
“Oh, they realize it, Doctor,” said Kirk. “But I think there’s something fishy going on down there, and I want you along to help us find out what it is.”
The three men stepped onto the transporter platform. McCoy nodded. “I would like to know what’s so damn important to make twenty thousand people play chicken with an asteroid.”
“As far as we know, domesticated fowl have nothing to do with the situation, Doctor.”
McCoy eyed Spock to see whether or not the Vulcan was having him on. As usual, it was impossible to tell. “I’ll say they don’t,” McCoy replied.
“Gentlemen, let’s find out.” Kirk nodded to the transporter technician. “Energize.”
With a shimmer of dissolving atomic structure the landing party disappeared from the platform.
• • •
The landing party materialized on a wide stone veranda atop a hill that overlooked a broad plain. Rolling fields of grain stretched as far as the eye could see below them in the valley. Interspersed among the fields were a variety of farmhouses and storage structures. The farmhouses looked to be two-story buildings and resembled Swiss or Austrian chalets, with their wood and wattle construction. Winding brooks and larger streams cut through the landscape and reflected the pure blue of the Vesbian sky. Cobblestone lanes and a few wide roads connected the farmhouses.
In the far distance were craggy, snowcapped mountains. The temperature on the veranda where they stood was comfortable, if a bit chilly, and fresh in comparison to the controlled atmosphere of the Enterprise. All in all, reflected Kirk, Vesbius looked like an incredibly pleasant place to live—at least at this latitude in the northern hemisphere. Behind them was what seemed to be a complex of office buildings. The architecture was modern Federation, but it clearly had Bavarian and Swiss influence from Earth.
“Well,” said McCoy, taking a look around, “a person could get used to living in a paradise like this. It’s a shame it can’t last.”
“Yes,” said Kirk. “It is a great shame.”
The captain looked around. A group was emerging from one of the office buildings, which Kirk supposed were the colony’s government center. One of the group he recognized as Chancellor Faber. Another, a shorter man than Faber, was the person who had whispered into Faber’s ear earlier. There were two very tall, very brawny fellows accompanying them. One might take them for a security detail, but Kirk didn’t want to jump to conclusions at this point.
And standing next to Faber was a strikingly pretty woman. She was young—Kirk guessed she was in her late twenties or early thirties—and statuesque. As she drew closer, Kirk noticed that she had light blue eyes that matched the blue of the Vesbian sky. He’d never seen eyes quite that color before. Kirk found it compelling, and—
Almost uncanny, he thought.
“Mister Chancellor,” he said, turning to face the welcoming committee. “My ship astronomers estimate that the asteroid that is on its way toward your planet is due to arrive in under thirty days. Since it is headed on an almost direct collision vector with Vesbius, perhaps you have been unable to accurately gauge its velocity. This is the only reason I can think of to explain why we have detected no signs of a planetary evacuation.”
Chancellor Faber stood before the landing party with his hands clasped at his waist. He was worrying them together, as if under tension, Kirk noticed. But his voice did not betray any stress. “The reason you have detected no signs of evacuation, Captain, is because there are none,” Faber stated. “We’re not leaving Vesbius. We have decided, instead, to dig in.”
“Unwise,” said Mister Spock. “The vast energies that the strike will unleash are immense. But these will pale beside the after effects—which will almost certainly be most deleterious to life. Consider what happened to the dinosaurs of Earth.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Chancellor Faber. “But this is not Earth, and we are no longer Earth men.” He nodded toward the office complex. “Gentlemen, please come in and refresh yourselves. We have prepared a table for you, and, though I am very busy at the moment, it would be our pleasure to join you for a while.” Faber smiled at the young woman standing near him, and this time Kirk detected only pleasure in his expression. “I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Hannah, as well, who will be joining us. She is the executive branch chief advisor for intra-colony affairs.”
“The pleasure is ours,” said Kirk, and he meant it.
They sat down at a large table that was made from the local variant of oak and were served by a staff of cooks and waiters.
“Don’t any of these people know what’s about to fall on them?” said McCoy sotto voce to Kirk and Spock.
“Doctor, I believe they know but either they don’t care or they think that they have a solution to the problem,” Kirk replied. “Let’s hear them out. We’re not going to be able to force them to do anything they don’t want to do. We’re out of our jurisdiction, for one thing.”
The meal arrived, carried by servants who seemed carefree and well fed enough, and included several varieties of meat from the local herbivores. Along with an excellent selection of carrots, potatoes, and greens, there were a couple of vegetables Kirk could not identify but found delicious.
Spock was clearly enjoying the meal. “The Vesbians are obviously masters of horticulture,” he said between mouthfuls. “And their cooking skills are considerably developed as well.”
There was Vesbian ale served with the meal. It came in large tankards, and their host led the way by quaffing enormous swallows with every bite. The ale lived up to its reputation. It was hearty and flavorful, yet somehow light and sweet at the same time—veritable ambrosia. Kirk found himself finishing off his mug without even noticing it. As quickly as his drink was done, it was whisked away and another was set down in front of him.
Finally, the meal was through and all sat back. Thick black coffee was set before everyone, along with small shot glasses of even more alcohol—this in the form of a creamed scotch meant for pouring in the coffee. Kirk was sorry that Mister Scott was not here to enjoy the drink with them. The captain tipped his drink into the coffee and imitated his hosts by mixing the two liquids together with a seesaw motion of the wrist. Kirk took a sip.
“Wow,” remarked McCoy beside him. “I don’t believe I’ve eaten this well in years. Must be something in the soil around here. Seems like they grow perfect vegetables, make perfect beer, and”—he nodded toward Hannah Faber—“produce perfectly beautiful women. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“I noticed, Doctor,” Kirk replied, glancing in Hannah’s direction. She caught his gaze and returned it with her clear blue eyes. Her full lips turned into the slightest upturn of a smile. “Believe me, I have.”
Chancellor Faber pushed his chair back from the table and addressed all sitting there. “Now that we are refreshed as is our custom,” he said, “I trust that you see, Captain, that Vesbian hospitality is just as strong as it ever was. But before we begin any discussions, I wish to show you around the colony, and particularly to show you the preparations we have made in the past few months. They are expansive, and I believe they will help allay your concern for our well-being.”
Faber ushered the group outside, where there were two antigravity sleds waiting. He motioned Kirk and the landing party to climb aboard. Faber’s aide, Major Merling, who had been glancing warily at Spock since the landing party’s arrival, drew back and frowned. “Do I have to ride with that?”
“What?” Kirk asked, genuinely puzzled.
“I believe Major Merling is referring to the fact that I am a Vulcan,” said Spock.
“Now, Merling,” Faber intoned, “I told you to keep your retrograde prejudices to yourself.”
The chancellor turned to Kirk and shrugged. “He doesn’t approve of aliens. A portion of our population shares his opinion, I’m afraid. It is an unfortunate division in our otherwise peaceful society. My daughter and I are most certainly not among that faction, however.” He turned to his other aides. “Hox and Ferlein, you ride together with Merling,” he said. “Hannah and I will accompany these Federation officers.”
Each party boarded its respective sled and stood on the device’s surface. They held to a guardrail around the sled body as the sleds rose into the air. The transport devices were enclosed with some sort of force field, for though the passengers rose and flew away at great speed, there was no sensation of rushing air streaming past their faces. The ride was very smooth as well. It seemed to Kirk that Vesbius was far from being a galactic backwater. Even though Vesbius was a colony planet, being here was much like being back in the heart of the Federation.
After they had been aloft for a few minutes, Kirk turned to Hannah Faber and commented, “This is quite a planet you have here. One of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many.”
“Thank you, Captain, I agree,” Hannah replied. Her voice was as mellifluous as her appearance was beautiful. “I was born here, and I feel that I am one of the luckiest creatures in the galaxy. I wish that you could have come at a less trying time. You seem to appreciate the finer things, and there is so much I could show you.”
“So you are native Vesbian?” Kirk asked. “And you have never left the planet?”
“Oh, I have been to Starbase Twelve and to a few other nearby Omega sector systems on short trade expeditions. But those only lasted for a standard week or so.” She looked over the rail of the antigravity sled and motioned outward. “For you see, Captain, I heard the call of my native world, I felt it. For a Vesbian, there is no place like home.” She turned back to Kirk. “Can you understand how I feel, Captain Kirk?”
“I don’t quite understand,” replied. Kirk. “But I’m beginning to.”
The antigravity sleds arrived at their destination after twenty minutes or so of flying and came to dock near a rocky outcrop in one of the snowcapped mountains.
“Welcome to the Hesse Mountains,” Hannah said. “I was born near here in a little chalet. My dear mother is buried in a cemetery at the foot of this hill.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” said Kirk.
“Since Miriam died, Hannah has been more than a daughter to me. She has been a helpmate,” the chancellor put in. “She is extremely accomplished, and a graduate of our finest institution. It is not nepotism that led me to appoint her to her current post, but her ability.”
Kirk leaped down from his sled to the landing platform surface. He turned to aid Hannah in her descent but found that she had lithely sprung off the antigravity sled and landed gracefully beside him.
In the side of the rock before them was set a large door at least ten stories tall. It hung on enormous hinges and was in the open position.
“How thick would you say that door was, Spock?” Kirk asked.
“Approximately 9.2 meters,” Spock replied. “A formidable barrier.”
So this was the plan, Kirk thought. Underground shelters. The chancellor led them through the opening and into the heart of the mountain.
It was an impressive tour. The Vesbians had dug deep. The shelter was not merely in the mountain but under the mountain, dug into its very roots. The Vesbians had carved a vast warren using mining phasers and hard labor. Spock provided an estimate that the space could easily house up to a third of the population of the colony, which was near twenty thousand. Under the living and working quarters were the food stores. Not only were there large stockpiles of grain and other essential nutrients in dried form, there were hydroponics labs filled with growing plants, and underground hangars filled with all variety of the planet’s fauna, including a herd of the local cattle. In fact, the complex resembled Noah’s Ark more than it did a fallout shelter.
“Would you estimate that they have provided sufficient genetic variety to re-create the ecosystem of the planet here, Doctor?” asked Kirk of McCoy.
McCoy checked his life sciences tricorder readings and nodded. “Possible,” he said. “I think they’re very near to the threshold for that. But the thing is, Jim, how are they going to do that on the surface after that giant rock hits? When that door opens up again, it’s going to be a different planet out there. Paradise will have vanished.”
“I know,” said Kirk. “We’ve got to get them to see this.”
“Seems you’ve taken a personal interest in the matter,” McCoy said, nodding toward Hannah Faber. “And if I’m not mistaken, the matter has taken a personal interest in you.”
“You could be right, Bones,” Kirk replied.
“I often am,” McCoy said. “But any country doctor could’ve told you that.”
• • •
During the tour of the fallout shelter, Kirk was disturbed to see that Major Merling’s attitude toward Spock was not a singular instance on the planet. There were many glances at the Vulcan, and most of them seemed to be hostile in Kirk’s estimation. The Vulcan, for his part, either did not notice or, more likely, he found the phenomenon interesting. Kirk, on the other hand, was bothered for his friend. Hannah Faber noticed his agitation and asked him what was wrong. When Kirk told her, she nodded.
“My people are wonderful and hospitable,” she said. “But some of us possess characteristics that are . . . some of us do harbor an endemic suspicion of outsiders and aliens. I, however, am not among those. And neither is my father. This attitude comes from living on such an isolated world, and I think being in close communion with the planet.”
“What do you mean, ‘close communion’?” Kirk asked.
Hannah looked troubled, as if she had said something she had not meant to. “I only mean that we Vesbians are people who are very near to nature,” she replied after a moment. “For most of us, the thought of leaving this world is akin to dying. And that, Captain, is an emotion I do share with most of my people.”
They returned to the government center and a feast that was the equal of the repast they had enjoyed upon first arriving. Kirk was impressed with the official dining room. Often such official venues were decorated in a cold and overbearing manner, but the Vesbians seemed to be expert at setting a grand spectacle.
First there was the table itself, which was not an indeterminate laminate but crafted of a hard and durable local wood with a beautiful grain. The chairs were large, each fit for a king. And the platters set before them would have befitted a royal feast as well. The smell was delicious.
When he was about halfway through devouring a local roasted fowl with traces of rosemary and some local herb that was its perfect complement, Kirk looked up to see Hannah Faber watching him eat.
She laughed. “I take it you are pleased with the bürste henne, Captain? It’s a specialty of my home section. A planetary native, and entirely free range, but we’ve selectively bred them for their meat. The plumage also makes a matchless insulation for certain purposes.”
“The taste is . . . incredible,” Kirk said.
“And that’s a good thing?”
“A very good thing,” Kirk replied, and he quickly returned to chowing down.
When Faber and his retinue pushed back their chairs and made motions to return to their duties, Kirk decided the time had come for frank talk.
“Chancellor Faber, please indulge me for a few more moments, and hear out what I have to say. We’ve come a long way, and we did not travel here merely to tour your beautiful world and leave. We have been sent on a mission, to keep your people from dying when the asteroid strikes this planet. Since it is obvious that you understand this danger is looming, what I would like to do is emphasize the extent of the damage the asteroid will cause when it arrives.” Kirk held up his hands to forestall any objections. “Please allow me to attempt this, I beg of you. If not for your own sake, then for your people’s.” Kirk looked over at Hannah. “And for the sake of your children,” he added.
Faber sighed but sank back into his chair. “Very well, Captain Kirk. I will listen. But I must tell you that I doubt you will say anything that I have not heard before. As a matter of fact, you may be surprised to learn it, but Major Merling made the same argument and has long championed it to me and to the Council.”
“Absolutely,” said Merling. “It is my opinion that this colony must leave Vesbius, immediately. I have come to believe that the only way this can be accomplished is through military coercion. I believe that, for the sake of the people, these methods should be employed at once. This democracy with which we govern ourselves must give way to a stronger government, at least in the short term.”
“Treason,” muttered one of the large men who had accompanied the chancellor. And then he shook his head and said something that Kirk didn’t quite catch but that sounded like “exo” or “exos.”
Evidently Merling heard him and understood.
“No! I believe Chancellor Faber is the man to lead us, not some revolutionary junta. If only I could convince him of this.” Merling trailed off, shaking his head. This was clearly an argument he’d had with Faber before, and had lost before. But it was equally clear to Kirk that Merling was an obsessive, not to say rigid, sort of character—a type Kirk had encountered all too often before—and that the major was not about to give up on his argument.
“I didn’t say anything about needing a military government. Democracy can accomplish much when you give it a chance,” said Kirk. “But I can tell you the consequences of remaining—consequences that are entailed on a purely physical, scientific basis. It’s not pretty.” He turned to his first officer. “Spock, can you explain it to them?”
Spock leaned forward and templed his fingers together. “Ladies and gentlemen, the captain is correct. I estimate the chance of extinction at 98.253 percent in the two planetary years after the asteroid strikes.” Spock shook his head, as if considering any possible alternative and regretfully rejecting it. “Mister Chancellor, your shelters are not a long-term solution. They will not work, and your people will die.”
A01: Tony Daniel
Bio: Tony Daniel is a science fiction writer and author of Guardian of Night, Metaplanetary, Superluminal, and short stories such as “A Dry, Quiet War.” He is also an editor at Baen Books. He’s had multiple stories in Year’s Best anthologies, one of which, “Life on the Moon,” won the Asimov's Reader's Poll Award for year’s best story and was nominated for a Hugo Award.